‘Guardian Sport Network’

Freed from Lyon torment, fragile Gourcuff seeks fresh start

Yoann GourcuffLyon are 1-0 up at home to Metz and labouring when a lofted pass from Nabil Fekir finds Yoann Gourcuff in space on the left-hand edge of the penalty area. He deftly brings the ball down and throws a step-over to unbalance Metz defender Jonathan Rivierez, only for a posse of four opponents to force him towards the corner flag. The opening appears to have closed up, but Gourcuff holds off Rivierez and manages to drill a low pass to Corentin Tolisso, who steadies himself before shooting into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards.

At first glance, the goal seems all Tolisso’s own work, but it is the pace of Gourcuff’s pass that creates the opportunity. Tolisso is too far from goal to shoot first-time, but Gourcuff knows that by fizzing the ball into his feet at speed, Metz’s defence will be caught off-guard and the young midfielder, an accomplished striker of the ball, will have time to pick his spot.

Though incidental, the assist bore all Gourcuff’s hallmarks, showcasing as it did his sensitivity to the precise technical requirements of each on-pitch situation. Every action he performs seems delicately calibrated, from the deliberate way he paces backwards before taking set-pieces to his habit of bobbing on his toes at the start of his run-up and the exaggerated follow-through when he strikes the ball. Sadly for Gourcuff, and for Lyon, he is also uniquely sensitive to the condition of his body.

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French football quotes of the year 2014

Pleasantries

Marcelo Bielsa“There’s already one of ours who’s up there [Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa], and I wish him the best. Rémy, I think he deserves something else than Newcastle. I wouldn’t go there. You must get bored shitless in Newcastle.”
– Montpellier president Louis Nicollin on reports linking Rémy Cabella with a move to Newcastle United

“At Milan, they treated me like a king. People were courteous, welcoming and always willing to help. At a restaurant, in France, you sit down and not only do they make you wait for a very long time, but they treat you badly. It was disconcerting, but now I’ve adapted: if someone treats me badly, I treat them badly in return. I’m a real Parisian now.”
– Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva on the joys of life in the capital

Loïc Féry: “Thank you.”
Christian Gourcuff: “I’m not saying thank you to you [vous].”
Loïc Féry: “So we’re vous-ing each other now?”
Christian Gourcuff: “Yes, yes, we’re vous-ing each other now.”
– Terse exchange between Lorient president Loïc Féry and outgoing coach Christian Gourcuff, caught on camera by Canal+ after Lorient’s 4-1 loss at home to Lille on the season’s final day

“For him to be bad is one thing, but for him to be stupid is something else.”
– Nice captain Didier Digard hits out at referee Antony Gautier after being sent off for handball during a 1-1 draw at Saint-Étienne. He later apologised

“It’s not glasses he needs – it’s a Labrador!”
– Lyon midfielder Clément Grenier to referee Ruddy Buquet after a stormy 2-1 loss at home to Saint-Étienne

“I’m surprised by the unacceptable and immature attitude of Romao, who made vulgar remarks towards [Canal + pundit] Pierre Ménès and me because he couldn’t think of anything else to say after fouling me but insult me. I quote: ‘Go and suck that fat Pierre Ménès.’ Unacceptable.”
Bafétimbi Gomis, then with Lyon, on a dispute with Marseille midfielder Alaixys Romao

“So then Mr Gomis, about the ‘son of a whore’ and ‘tramp’ that you yelled at me on the pitch yesterday – I should tweet it, right?”
– Lorient midfielder Mathieu Coutadeur suggests Gomis is no angel himself

“The atmosphere on the pitch? The French were too arrogant, as usual.”
– Sweden Under-21 player Kiese Thelin after his side eliminated their French counterparts in an Under-21 European Championship play-off

“A coach is above all someone who works in the technical domain. And there are coaches who don’t coach, like Laurent Blanc at Paris, where it’s [Blanc’s assistant] Jean-Louis Gasset who takes care of it. I don’t like this model. A coach who doesn’t control the pitch, as far as I’m concerned, is not a coach.”
Christian Gourcuff

“I passed my coaching exams. Mr Gourcuff passed them 30 years ago. He should take them again and see that the job has evolved.”
Blanc responds

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Compulsive risk-taker Verratti relegates Cabaye to sideshow

Marco VERRATTINewcastle United fans, look away now. If losing Yohan Cabaye was painful, it probably won’t help to learn that he’s not even getting in the Paris Saint-Germain team at the moment.

As one of the stars of Lille’s 2010-11 double-winning team and a core member of the France side that engineered November’s famous comeback against Ukraine in World Cup qualifying, Cabaye is not short of admirers in his home country, but he is not playing for PSG for the simple reason that he is not Marco Verratti.

Since swapping the Bigg Market for the Champs Elysées in January, Cabaye has made only four starts. Instead, he is becoming the player that Laurent Blanc turns to when Verratti needs a breather, starting in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 encounter with Bayer Leverkusen (after PSG had put the tie to bed with a 4-0 victory in the first leg) and coming into the team for Friday’s 1-0 win at Nice, when Verratti was rested ahead of this week’s meeting with Chelsea.

French pundits believe that PSG’s neatly balanced midfield trio of Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi will give them the edge in their quarter-final against Chelsea, and if Motta supplies the brains and Matuidi the lungs in that triumvirate, Verratti is the wildly and erratically pumping heart.

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French football quotes of the year 2013

Zlatan IbrahimovicFrom post-match brawls and Twitter spats to weather vanes, broken televisions and Justin Bieber, Football Further proudly presents its seasonal compilation of the year’s best French football quotes.

Argy-bargy

“People have a good image of me. It’s not these tramps who are going to tarnish my image. They should stop lying to the French people. It annoys me that people talk about ‘your image’. My image is great in France. When I’m abroad, I don’t even talk about it. But in France it’s just these people, these parasites.”
Patrice Evra on his friends in the media

“I go to talk to the referee. At that moment, the delegate blocks me and pushes me towards the referee. As a result, I touch the referee with my back. It happened exactly like that. I didn’t push the referee.”
Leonardo‘s not entirely accurate account of his encounter with referee Alexandre Costa after Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-1 draw with Valenciennes in May. It ultimately costs him a 14-month suspension, effectively forcing him out of French football

“This year we’ve lost lots of players, as always, but we’ve lost something very important: the pillars of Valencia, players like [Roberto] Soldado, David Albelda or Tino Costa who talk in the changing room. Now there are lots of boot-lickers who don’t say things to your face. That’s why things aren’t going well between me and Đukić.”
Adil Rami explains why his relationship with Valencia coach Miroslav Đukić has broken down. And is promptly frozen out of the squad

“There was an altercation that I wasn’t involved in. My goalkeeping coach, Fabrice Grange, was surrounded by a load of people who were pushing him. Jean-Michel Aulas arrived – I don’t know why. All I did was push him back. He says that I hit him in the back, which is scandalous. If I’d done that, he wouldn’t have been able to do an interview with Canal+ three minutes later.”
– Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier rejects an accusation from Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas that he punched him during a tunnel scuffle after a heated derby du Rhône

“And what’s the other one called, Screwdriver? Rolland Screwdriver. All he does is talk.”
Evra again, unwittingly rechristening manager/pundit Rolland Courbis ‘Rolland Tournevis’

Les Bleus

“After the Euro, the media attention was very difficult to digest. I’d say that it ruined my season a bit. Everyone talked to me about it. I handled the situation badly, I accept that. I should have given a mea culpa. I shut myself off and, with hindsight, I realise that I was wrong.”
Samri Nasri reflects on Euro 2012

“If I had to do everything again, if I had the possibility to relive exactly the same life, I’d do it, I’d want the same one. I’d do everything the same. It’s beautiful, all the same. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced up to now.”
Éric Abidal on his battle with liver problems

“Above my mantelpiece, in the living room. My wife’s prepared everything.”
– Asked where he would put the Ballon d’Or trophy if he won it, Franck Ribéry reveals that he’s barely given it any thought at all

“When the coach told me I was playing, I said: ‘We’re going to Brazil.’ It doesn’t matter how. If I’d had to score with my hand, the ball would have been in the back of the net.”
Mamadou Sakho, who scores two goals as France overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Ukraine to book their place at next year’s World Cup

“I’d never seen such an atmosphere at the Stade de France. It was a beautiful moment to experience, all those people behind us, the flags, the chants. From the hotel to the stadium we felt that force pushing us.”
– Captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris

“RESPECT.”
– So often the scourge of the national team, L’Équipe takes its cue from Ali G with a simple one-word headline the day after the match

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Paris Saint-Germain emerge from mid-summer limbo

Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore, Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Salvatore Sirigu celebrate Paris Saint-Germain's 2-1 victory over Bordeaux in the Trophee des ChampionsHaving waited 19 years and 13 days to reacquaint themselves with the rarefied air at the summit of French football, Paris Saint-Germain were rather dismayed to see their Ligue 1 title celebrations unravel into a sorry mess in the space of barely a week.

Twenty-four hours after a 1-0 win at Lyon on May 12 gave PSG their first title since 1994, supporters clashed with riot police at Paris’ Place du Trocadéro (scene of Zlatan Ibrahimović’s glitzy unveiling the previous summer) and plans for a triumphant trophy presentation at the Hôtel de Ville were shelved. PSG were quick to condemn the “few hundred troublemakers” responsible for the violence, but the title euphoria dissipated further as Carlo Ancelotti abruptly announced his desire to leave the club for Real Madrid.

Sporting director Leonardo then had his suspension for shoving referee Alexandre Castro increased from nine to 13 months, while an initial lack of transfer activity was compounded by a glut of headline-grabbing arrivals at newly promoted Monaco, as well as media reports linking Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva with moves away from Parc des Princes.

The sense of flux was heightened by the unexpected string of rejections that PSG had to wade through before finally appointing a successor to Ancelotti. No fewer than six coaches – José Mourinho, Arsène Wenger, Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink, André Villas-Boas and Frank Rijkaard – were reported to have rebuffed the French champions’ advances, before former France coach Laurent Blanc eventually took the plunge following a year out of the game.

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England lose perspective in pursuit of teenage kicks

The French may not have a direct equivalent to the word ‘teenager’ (there being no numerical suffix akin to ‘-teen’ in the language of Molière), but that doesn’t stop them remarking on the novelty when a player under the age of 20 is called up by the national team.

It happened twice earlier this month, when 19-year-olds Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba were both included in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Spain. Pogba rather spoilt the symmetry by turning 20 the following day, but it was such a rarity that L’Équipe marked the occasion with a photographic slideshow of the players to have graced the blue jersey while still awaiting the end of their second decade.

Varane and Pogba are exceptions. The expectation, in France, is that players will earn their spurs in the junior versions of the national team before eventually graduating to the senior side. France’s under-21 squad – known as les Espoirs (literally, ‘the hopes’) – brims with exciting players such as Milan striker M’Baye Niang and the Lyon pair of Clément Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette, but although they play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, there is no clamour for them to be promoted to the senior squad before they are ready. That is partly down to the depth of talent already at Deschamps’ disposal, but it is also, partly, cultural.

Exceptional indeed is the player who is excused an apprenticeship in France’s representative youth teams. Despite Pogba’s widely acclaimed performances for Juventus this season, Deschamps has admitted to reluctance about allowing him to stroll straight into the first-team set-up. As recently as January, the former Marseille manager said the midfielder still needed “some carrot and stick” before he could be considered for selection. Both Pogba and Varane impressed on their debuts against Georgia on Friday, but afterwards the word on Deschamps’ lips was “potential”.

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French football quotes of the year 2012

Samir NasriFrom AVB to Zlatan, Newcastle to Donetsk, Football Further is proud to present its third annual compilation of the year’s best French football quotes.

Cross-Channel relations

“Yesterday, I make one tackle and all everybody speak about is this tackle. Nobody speaks about the 50-yard pass that kills [Florent] Balmont and causes a red card for ‘im.”
– Replete with some elaborate eyebrow-waggling and a healthy dose of Gallic shrugging, Joey Barton‘s attempts to ingratiate himself with the Marseille media become an instant YouTube classic

“Eden Hazard’s English is catastrophic. I asked him: ‘Are you happy with your transfer?’ He said: ‘I don’t understand!'”
Romelu Lukaku on his new Chelsea team-mate

“It was the feeling I had with the coach. He said he trusted me, but he didn’t let me play. He said I was too young. He said: ‘Your time will come.’ It didn’t come. Even though he’s had a 25-year career and despite the fact he’s the boss, my objective was to play … I’m impatient. When I want something, I’ll do anything to get it.”
Paul Pogba crosses Sir Alex Ferguson, and lives to tell the tale

“The only thing I miss is in the changing room. I can’t understand all the jokes and it’s frustrating. French is more difficult than I thought. I’m trying to take my lessons very seriously. I listen to them for at least half an hour each day. The other day I watched a film in French, with English subtitles. It was Ne le dis à personne [‘Tell No One’], which was a great film. I’m going to do it again.”
Joe Cole may have left Lille with a sub-GCSE level of French, but he is now a leading authority on the films of Guillaume Canet

“I could become a doctor!”
Abou Diaby tries to put a positive spin on all the medical vocabulary he has acquired during his time in and out of the Arsenal treatment room

Euro 2012

“I accept that you can ask questions about his sporting performances … But when I hear that he could be dangerous for the concept of the group, I feel like we’re trying to bring a wolf into the sheep pen. He’s been a part of the group since the start. He dropped out due to injury and then loss of form. Don’t make him out to be a wolf, because he isn’t one.”
Laurent Blanc tells the media not to cry wolf after handing Yoann Gourcuff a place in his preliminary squad

“Shut your face! Shut your face!”
Samir Nasri celebrates his goal in the opening game with England by thanking the gentlemen of the French press for their support

“There was a bit of a slanging match in the changing room.”
Olivier Giroud lets the cat out of the bag about the row that erupted after France’s shock 2-0 loss to Sweden

“Go fuck yourself! Go fuck your mother, you son of a bitch! There, now you can write that I’m badly brought up.”
– Such a nice boy, that Samir Nasri – lashing out at a journalist following Les Bleus‘ quarter-final elimination by Spain

“We’ve told them to be vigilant and not to say anything that could hurt the group.”
– French Football Federation press officer Philippe Tournon, prior to the tournament, on the instructions given to France’s players about how to handle the media

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Floundering Gourcuff handed unlikely France reprieve

From the outside, the striking thing was the fact that it was headline news at all. Gourcuff named in France squad. Yoann Gourcuff, heir apparent to Zinedine Zidane, darling of Bordeaux’s 2009 title-winning side, was this week selected in Laurent Blanc’s preliminary squad for Euro 2012. And it was the biggest story in town.

Anticipation of the squad announcement had centred on whether or not Gourcuff would get the call, at the end of a season in which injuries and poor form have restricted him to just 13 league appearances for Lyon, culminating in a sending-off for violent conduct against Ajaccio on Sunday. “It’s not anecdotal,” said Blanc of the red card, which Gourcuff received for an off-the-ball altercation with Ajaccio’s Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. “It proves that the boy isn’t in top form, both physically and mentally.”

Gourcuff’s inclusion in the 26-man squad therefore came as something of a surprise, but how has a player for whom such a bright future was predicted fallen so far?

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Right-wing repositioning opens Ben Arfa’s route to Euro 2012

In recent weeks, Hatem Ben Arfa has started to look like the player he had always threatened to become.

With two goals and three assists in his last four appearances, the 25-year-old is the form attacking midfielder in the Premier League. There have been flurries of eye-catching form in the past, but he has rarely played such daring, decisive football on such a consistent basis and against such strong opposition.

The catalyst for his spring renaissance was the January arrival of Papiss Demba Cissé, who was signed to link up with his Senegal team-mate, Demba Ba. With two prolific strikers at his disposal, Newcastle United coach Alan Pardew was forced to abandon his long-held ambition to deploy Ben Arfa as a number 10 behind a lone striker. He has re-emerged on the right.

Ben Arfa started on the right flank for the first time in the league this season in Newcastle’s 5-2 defeat at Fulham on January 21 (a game in which he scored), but it was not until March 18, and a 1-0 win at home to Norwich City, that he was included in the same starting line-up as Cissé and Ba. The trio subsequently started in the slick 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion and last weekend’s 2-0 defeat of Liverpool at St James’ Park. After opening the scoring in the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, Ben Arfa scored once and created the two other goals at West Brom and was then instrumental in both goals against Liverpool.

Over the course of those recent games, Newcastle’s shape has slowly morphed from a lopsided 4-4-2 into something resembling an orthodox 4-3-3, as Ben Arfa has become the focal point for his side’s attacking play on the right flank and Pardew has responded by adding more ballast to the centre of midfield.

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Blanc’s France still searching for an identity

For a team protecting an unbeaten record that now stretches to 543 days, France will approach Wednesday night’s friendly against Germany in Bremen with a surprising degree of uncertainty.

Since going down 1-0 at home to Belarus in Laurent Blanc’s first competitive game in charge in September 2010, France have qualified for Euro 2012 – without recourse to the play-offs – and enjoyed friendly wins over England, Brazil and the United States (as well as some forgettable draws against Croatia, Chile and Belgium).

Viewed from the outside, and against a backdrop of the self-inflicted humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, Les Bleus are turning things around. Bubbling beneath the statistics, however, are a multitude of concerns about the team’s style of play and a lack of both experience and leadership within the squad, while an ongoing contract dispute between Blanc and French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët suggests Blanc’s employers remain to be convinced by the direction the team is taking.

Blanc pledged to introduced panache and risk-taking to France’s football following his appointment in the aftermath of the infamous Knysna training ground mutiny, but although France have become solid and difficult to beat, their play has not captured the imagination since the first game of their current 17-match unbeaten run – a 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo that came four days after the setback against Belarus.

Then, a team anchored by a midfield pairing of Yann M’Vila and Alou Diarra, driven forward by the lolloping raids of Abou Diaby and centred around the new-found efficacy of Karim Benzema had hinted at a glorious future for Blanc’s France. Now, although Benzema has gone from strength to strength at Real Madrid, the team has lost its way.

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